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Sermon for April 28, 2024 – Fifth Sunday in Easter

Welcome to this week’s episode, a special rerun from our Speaking of Life archive. We hope you find its timeless message as meaningful today as it was when it was first shared.

Program Transcript

Speaking Of Life 3023 | Plugged In
Michelle Fleming

The worst power outage in US history happened on August 14, 2003. It’s called the Northeast Blackout of 2003, and it affected 45 million people in eight states from Ohio to Connecticut. Though it lasted just a little over a day, much of the affected area was in the middle of a heatwave, which meant no air conditioning or fans. For people stuck in New York subways when the power went out, it took two hours to safely evacuate them. The same was true for people who were stranded mid-ride on roller coasters at amusement parks. Water service was also affected because the water pumps were electric.

It’s when we experience a power outage that we realize how much we rely on electricity to live and work, how much we need a strong connection to have a consistent flow. Otherwise, we experience what people in the Northeast Blackout faced: discomfort, delays, and loss.

When we think about our connection with God, we might see some similarities. We need a strong connection with God to experience the reality of how deeply we are loved, and how that love–like electricity­­–flows through us to others.  The apostle John writes in 1 John 4 that God is love and that the love we have for others comes from God. Here’s what else he says:

Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; [but] if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us… We love because he first loved us.
I John 4: 11-12, 19 (NRSV)

His love–like electricity–flows from him, through us, and to others. It’s his love that we share with others. That’s why the connection to God is so important. John also talks about when that connection feels weak, or when we choose to prioritize other connections over our connection with God. That’s when fear creeps in, and we doubt God’s love for us:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
I John 4:18 (NRSV)

 God loves us and doesn’t stop loving us. We experience blackouts when we doubt God’s love for us, we start to look for connections elsewhere, weakening our experience of our connection with him. When we don’t feel loved, we don’t have love to pass on to others. Just like the Northeast Blackout, there’s discomfort, delay, and loss.

Power outages can happen due to weather events and human error. But our connection to God is never in jeopardy. Fear in our hearts can weaken our ability to let God’s love flow through us, but the connection will never let go. His lavish love is readily available to us, whenever we turn toward him.

May you know and abide in the understanding that you are held and deeply loved by the Father, Son, and Spirit.

I’m Michelle Fleming, Speaking of Life.

For reference:


Psalm 22:25-31 • Acts 8:26-40 • 1 John 4:7-21 • John 15:1-8

This week’s theme is fruit from the vine. In our call to worship psalm, the Lord is described as one who satisfies and elicits praise and worship from all the ends of the earth. The story of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 echoes the far-reaching effect of the Easter message, the good news about Jesus. Our reading from 1 John is dominated by a message of mutual love among believers, that finds its source in the God who is love. The gospel message from John speaks metaphorically, using a vine and its branches, to point to the fruitful relationship that exists between the Father, the Son, and believers.

Abiding In the Vine

John 15:1-8 ESV

As we gather for the fifth Sunday in Easter, we will once again be invited into an extended metaphor to help us unpack the meaning of who Jesus is and who we are in relationship to him. Last week we were given the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and we as his sheep. Today, we have another image, which also invokes Old Testament imagery used in Israel’s history, of a vine and its branches.

For context, this image, like last week’s, falls within a long talk in John’s gospel account that Jesus is having with his disciples just before he goes to Jerusalem to be crucified. He is aiming to encourage and comfort his disciples (and us), that even though he will die on a cross, his disciples will not be abandoned or left alone. John takes special interest in relaying that Jesus is present with us, even though he has “gone away.” He has sent us the Holy Spirit and therefore he is with us in a deeper way than he was before his ascension, and he has promised to return.

In John’s writing, we are confronted with the implications of Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension, and sending of his Spirit, along with his promise of his future return. The question we are invited to wrestle with is what are we to do with our lives in the meantime? Today’s passage in particular picks up Jesus’ instructions on that very topic. Here we will see what our primary calling is “between the times” of his first coming and his return.

From this text, we can see that the proper response and way of life for all believers living “between the times” can be summed up in one concept. Surely that sounds overly simplistic. But Jesus’ emphasis on this one word is unmistakable in the use of the image he has chosen to describe our relationship with him, and how that informs how we live daily as we wait for his return. If you are familiar with this text, you probably know the word I’m leading up to. That word is simply—abide. That is what we are to do as the disciples who follow Jesus. But, before we walk away thinking we understand what abiding means, we would do well to let Jesus’ chosen imagery fill in for us what he means by “abiding.” Otherwise, we may miss out on the comfort and encouragement he intends to offer us.

We will divide the text up into two parts. The first part will be the first three verses:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. (John 15:1-3 ESV)

Here are some general observations we can make from the first three verses:

First, Jesus begins by stating some realities that are involved. He is going to lay the groundwork of what is true before he tells us what to do. We do not receive the imperative of “abide” until verse four. Jesus wants us to know who he is, and who we are in him first before he gives us the implications of that reality. This is God’s grace to us. The God revealed in Jesus Christ is not one of arbitrary commands, rules, or laws. All that he commands of us flows out of who he is for us and who we are in relationship with him. He will never command something of us that doesn’t fit who he is as the loving Father who sent his Son to save us. The Lord is consistent and trustworthy in all that he says and does. And he begins his image of vine and branches by telling us what this image says about him.

Second, Jesus does not start with a statement about us, his disciples. He begins by letting us know who he is in this image that he is about to use. He does this with one of his hallmark “I Am” statements. In this example, Jesus declares himself to be the true vine. But not only that, he includes the Father as the vinedresser. Jesus does not stand alone in the metaphor being used. His Father is intimately involved in all that goes on with Jesus being the vine. Jesus wants us to know that he and the Father are on the same page. We do not need to fear that what the Father does is in some way different or opposed to Jesus’ words to us. Although the operative word in this image will be “abide,” that does not mean we are to just “hang around” as we are waiting for the Lord’s return. But we do not need to be led to think that the Father is not for us in the same way the Son is. There is no “good-cop/bad-cop” relationship we are brought into.

Third, and related to the second observation, Jesus adds a descriptor to his identity as the vine by saying he is the “true vine.” You may remember last week that Jesus did the same thing in his description of himself as the “good shepherd.” Jesus is making a distinction that we must take seriously. The vine that we will be told to abide in is the “true” vine, meaning, this is the only vine trustworthy of abiding in. It also alerts us to the fact that there may be other “vines” that could also call out to us with the command to “abide.” It is vitally important to know whether those calls come from a “false” vine and not the “true” vine.

Have you ever found yourself abiding in a false vine? There are many “vines” that call out to us claiming that if we just abide in them, then we will be fruitful and have life. But, in the end, we come to find that those promises are hollow and empty, leaving us the same. We are tempted, and sometimes fall prey to such temptations, where we come to think that there is some other source that will give us life. Maybe it’s a particular lifestyle, ideology, community, social affiliation, status level, or any number of things we “abide” in that do not measure up to the “true vine” that gives us the fruitful life for which we were created.

Finally, after Jesus lets us know who he is and who his Father is, he then has something to say about who we are. However, he does not make any claim about us apart from our relationship with him. Using the image of “branches” for his disciples, he relates that “Every branch in me…” Our truest identity is only found in Jesus. There is no “us” in any true or fruitful way that exists apart from him. In fact, if a branch is not bearing fruit, it is described as being taken away. The vinedresser does not allow for any existence in the vine that is not a real existence as a branch connected to the vine. We must remember that Jesus is speaking with a metaphor using images to declare what is true of himself and our relationship with him. So, we must be careful not to read into the image interpretations that do not conform with the rest of the biblical witness of who God is. Jesus is not saying that the Father is looking for worker bees to produce some fruit. That’s not the thrust of the image nor is that consistent with Jesus’ revelation of the Father.

The Father is not searching among the branches to see who he can “take away.” This is a descriptive statement of what it means to truly be a branch. Branches draw from the vine, and it is on account of that relationship that fruit is produced. The branches don’t “produce” the fruit, the vine does. In fact, the word “bear” in this text is the same word John used in the story of Jesus’ miracle of turning water to wine. Jesus produced the “fruit” of the vine, in this case as wine, and then he tells his disciples to “carry” it to the master of the feast. The word “carry” and the word “bear” are the same Greek word pheret, meaning to carry, bear, bring, or even to make publicly known. The meaning is not meant to convey the producing or creating of fruit. The disciples were not tasked to turn water into wine. They were to pheret or carry it to the master. That’s the Lord’s work in the branches that are put on display as a witness to him and his Father.

Making that observation also helps us understand the vinedresser’s work in pruning a little better as well. The Father is pruning us in order that we can more fully be the branches we are intended to be. When we experience pruning in our lives this image is not telling us the Father is displeased with our “production” of fruit and he is going to make us miserable until will get our quota up. No, that again would not be consistent of who God is as revealed in Jesus. The Father’s pruning has something to do with what we are going to see in the remaining verses.

Let’s take a look now of verses 4 through 8:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (John 15:4-8 ESV)

Now Jesus gives us the imperative to “abide.” That is the life we are to live each and every day as a disciple of the Lord. But what exactly does that mean? Some may see this as simply hanging around waiting for Jesus’ return. But the Apostle John includes this teaching from Jesus as a comforting reminder that we are not left alone with Jesus’ departure. He is still with us, and that is why we can abide. So, we are invited to live in the present in the same way we will be living in the future kingdom the Lord brings when he returns. Abiding is not something we do to pass the time or as a means to some other end. It is the end purpose we are created for. It is the eternal imperative of living in union with Christ. When we get to heaven, enter the Kingdom, or whatever language you want to use to speak of God’s new heaven and earth that comes with Jesus’ return, we will be experiencing the fullness of the kingdom on account of the fact that we will be unhindered in our abiding in the vine.

Perhaps another word to bring alongside the word “abide” will be helpful here. When we consider the image of a branch bearing fruit because of its relationship to the vine, we can see that the branch is fruitful because it is drawing from the life source of the vine. If you cut a branch off, it’s not going to produce any fruit regardless of how much you fertilize it, water it, affirm it, or scream at it. Why? Because it can no longer receive its source of life from the vine. And that’s the word I would like to use alongside abide. Receive. That is another way of speaking of abiding in the vine. As branches, we are to receive our life from the vine.

Jesus is our source of life and there is nothing outside that relationship that adds up to anything other than withered branches, burned out and burned up. Jesus wants us to know that there is no “true” life outside of a relationship with the “true” vine.

We see in these remaining verses that not abiding in Jesus leaves us powerless, wordless, fruitless, hopeless and without a prayer. We, as branches, are to be receiving all things from the vine. That is what will make heaven, heaven. What the Father aims to give us in Jesus is the fruitful life he has with his Son and the Spirit. There is so much to receive that it will be a way of life for all eternity. In the present, even when we do receive, which amounts to bearing fruit, the Father will “prune” as a means to enable us to receive even more. He does not want us to miss out on all the blessings and fruit that come with abiding in the vine. That’s how good the Father is. He even works to enable us to receive more as we grow to know him as branches in the vine. If the Father is the giver of all good gifts, as declared in the book of James, then the most important thing to cultivate is a relationship of trust where we can receive all that he has for us. The only gift the Father cannot give us is the one we refuse to receive. But, as Jesus pictures it, even here, the Father moves to enable us to abide more fully, receiving all that he has to give.

Jesus punctuates the life of abiding as a life of receiving in verse seven:

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7 ESV)

Abiding in Christ is to be in a position of receiving “whatever you wish” and you can count on receiving it because the Father does not hold back. Of course, Jesus includes that this life of abiding will be consistent with the abiding word that is given to us. So, even what we “wish” will conform to the “true” wishes of the vine and vinedresser. Even what we ask will not go astray. And praise God for that as we don’t always know what to ask for. But the Word does.

The Apostle John is not finished with Jesus’ words on abiding. We are only dealing with half of the passage here. However, next week we will look at the second half of John’s passage in John 15:9-17 to find the most precious gift he is aiming to give us. Until then, take comfort and encouragement that Jesus’ resurrection means he has not left you, and that his Father has not abandoned you. Rather, the Father is determined to bring you into an abiding relationship with himself, through his Son, by the Spirit, in such a way as to open your soul to receive the fruitful life he always had in mind for you.

The Weight of Glory w/ Jon Ritner W4

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April 28—Fifth Sunday in Easter
John 15:1-8, “Sugar High”

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Program Transcript

The Weight of Glory w/ Jon Ritner W4

Anthony: Our final passage of the month is John 15:1-8. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for the Fifth Sunday in Easter, which is April 28. Jon, would you do the honors, please?


“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit. You are already trimmed because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples.

Anthony: Whew, there’s a lot in that passage, but we’ll start here. Jesus is the true vine, and he is the nourishment we need—whether we know it or not—of real life, vitality, relational sweetness, and the kind of sustainable fruit we ultimately desire. So why, Jon, do we so often seek a sugar high from somewhere else?

And because we know what comes with a sugar high, comes a crash. So, talk to us about that.

Jon: Yeah. What an incredible kind of agrarian reference that still holds true for us today as we think about vineyards and wine. Even out here in California and wine country, this passage comes to my mind every time I drive by a vineyard and just think about how Jesus was just wandering through a field like this with his disciples making this point.

But the essence of this passage to me is the connection between roots and fruits. And from walking around any sort of farm, that there are seasons in which all of the work is being done underground in the roots. And that the roots are deepening, they’re getting the moisture, the nutrients they need, and that eventually they’ll produce the stock, and eventually in the right season they’ll produce the fruit.

But that takes a long time. You cannot go out to a vineyard 365 days a year and grab a grape, so to speak. There are only certain times because of the length of it. And I think part of why we look for sugar highs in life is because sugar highs are instant. There’s an immediate gratification that comes that we can do something right now to experience some sort of artificial, superficial rush. In order to experience it the correct way took, takes a lot of work and work that needed to have started before now.

And so, if I haven’t planted any roots and if I haven’t cared for my roots, if I haven’t done the pruning of the vine, there may not be any fruit on the tree. And so, if there’s no fruit for me to experience in that moment, it’s going to lead me to go somewhere else to buy that. So, I think what I resonate with is just the temptation to immediate gratification, to always looking for cheap artificial solutions offerings for the things I really want, which I believe can only come from the Holy Spirit in us.

So, I remember a pastor once saying of this text: if you’re rootless, you’re fruitless; and if you’re fruitless, you’re useless. And that has stuck in my head for many years. Anyone who wants to be used by God needs to have the fruit of God’s, of the Holy Spirit’s, presence.

But the way that starts is with our own rootedness in him. And those roots are really where I think this begins for us. And ultimately, the quality of fruit that we give in the world needs to be better than any of those superficial offerings.

Anthony: Yeah. I think it was Watchman Nee that said, Negligence and prayer withers the inner man.” The fruit just withers.

I’m looking at verse 5. Jesus said, without me, you can’t do anything. I think he’s being literal. You can’t do anything without me. And so, we must be drinking in that relationship first. What’s that old saying? You can’t give what you don’t have. And so, let’s be rooted in the one who is the true vine.

My brother, we’ve talked about folks being in and out, and I wanted to remind our listeners that the Greek word for hospitality literally means the love of strangers. And like it says in Hebrews 13:2, look, don’t neglect to show hospitality to strangers. So, as you drink in from the true vine, as we learn from him and his ways, and as we engage our neighbors, let’s show hospitality, love a stranger, because that’s what the Lord is doing by the Holy Spirit.

Jon, it’s been a joy having you on the podcast. I’m so glad you said yes. Thank you for your labor of love in the ministries that you’re participating in as a coach and counselor, and as a prophetic voice to the church.

We’re grateful for you. And it’s been a lot of fun. And as typical for our podcast, we like to close in prayer. And so, would you do the honor of praying over us, Jon?

Jon: Absolutely.

Jesus, I thank you for this word picture and just reading it afresh today. I believe there are people listening to this who have this image on their walls or on stained glass in their sanctuaries or on prints on their nightstand, Lord. And yet it can be so easy to walk right by that every day and forget the essential spiritual truth of it, which is that we are called to cling to you, to abide in you, to be rooted in you, that all of our nutrients that we need in life solely come from you.

And I pray for everyone listening, Lord, that even this week in this season that we have, as we draw near to you and think about spiritual practices. And we just pray, Father, that you would help us to sink our roots into you, that your Holy spirit would be the life blood flowing through all of us, that, Father, the fruits that come out of our life would be out of the abundance of the work that you’re doing in our life.

And we just truly believe the truth of this text, Father, that is we can’t do this, but you can. And you are in us, and we are in you. And Lord, there’ll be days we don’t even want to live the Christian life, but you want to. And you are in us, and we are in you.

And Father, at the end of our lives, when we look back at any fruit we may have produced, we want to be able to say, we didn’t do any of this, but you did because you were in us, and we were in you. So, I pray this week, Father, that we might cling to you, cling to the vine, prune out anything that needs to be pruned, Lord. Cut those things that are not worthy of your kingdom, throw them in the fire, Lord, that we might continue to grow and celebrate those as cutbacks and not just setbacks in life, Lord. And we pray that ultimately through this, we might become a flourishing, fruit bearing plant that has great value to you and your kingdom. We pray this in Jesus’ strong name. Amen.

Small Group Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think Jesus starts in his metaphor by telling us the realities of who he and his Father are, and who we are in relationship with him, before he gives us the command to abide?
  • Discuss the importance of seeing that the True Vine, Jesus, and the Vinedresser, the Father, are one regarding their purposes for us, the branches.
  • What does the descriptor “true” tell us about Jesus being the Vine? What are some reasons Jesus would want to include this descriptor?
  • Discuss the affect Jesus’ image of branches being thrown away and burned had on you and what it means to not abide. What should we be careful about in understanding these images? Are there some ways that we should NOT interpret the image based on other scriptures?
  • Discuss how this passage helps you understand a little more of what it means for the Father to “prune” the branches. Can you think of times of pruning in your life that you are now thankful for?
  • How did seeing “abiding” as being a description of “receiving” from the Lord help, or hinder your understanding of the text?
  • A lot of points were made from the image of the vine and its branches. What were some that had the biggest impact on you? Did you see other points from Jesus’ word picture that came to mind that you can share?

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